All-America quarterback Vernon Adams’ running and passing and 154 yards in penalties dashed Sam Houston’s hope of an upset on No. 1 Eastern Washington in the FSC Kickoff in the opening NCAA college football of the 2014 season Saturday.
The Eagles won 56-35 but Sam Houston showed the Bearkats will be a team that can be a force in this year’s Southland Conference race. SHSU rolled up 542 yards on 85 plays.
Redshirt sophomore Jared Johnson showed plenty of promise as the Kats’ new starting quarterback, throwing for 317 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 50 more.
Senior running back Keshawn Hill was the leading rusher for the Bearkats with 17 carries for 133 yards including a 79-yard touchdown for the Kats’ first score.
Wide receiver Yedidiah Louis caught 10 passes for 89 yards.
“You could see the difference experience makes watching the two quarterbacks,” Keeler said. “Jared missed some receivers, but we have a strong belief in him. He’ll be fine."
Adams completed 26 of 48 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns and rushed 12 times for 61 yards as Eastern Washington produced 624 yards total offense.
A key in helping EWU prevail were 16 flags against the Bearkats for 159 yards in penalties. The Eagles drew only one penalty for 15 yards.
“We’re really disappointed in the mistakes today,” Keeler said. “If we play clean, we have a real chance to win this ball game. More than 150 yards in penalties is mind boggling. We’re a better football team than that.”
The victory was the Eagles’ first in four contests against Sam Houston in the past decade.
The Kats brought a 3-0 record against EWU into the contest.
“We are pretty ragged now,” Keeler said. “There are no exhibition games in college football. We have a lot of things to work on.”
Adams marched the Eagles 88 yards in 12 plays for the first score of the game. Hitting Blair Bomber for a three-yard score. The big play in the drive was a 22-yard completion to Cooper Kupp at the Bearkat five.
Linebacker Tristen Eche sacked Adams on fourth-and-three at the SHSU 27 in end a late first quarter scoring threat after consecutive interference calls had put the Eagles in scoring position again.
Keshawn Hill tied the contest 7-7 nine seconds into the second quarter, finding a hole in the right side of the line and racing 79 yards for a touchdown. The TD dash is the senior’s longest as a Bearkat, eclipsing his 60-yard run in last year’s NCAA playoff win over Southern Utah.
Trenier Orr put Sam Houston in front less 30 seconds later, picking off an Adams pass in the flat and returning the interception 55 yards to put the Kats up 14-7 with 14:34 to go in the second period.
Eastern Washington tied the game 14-14 with a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Adam’s second TD pass of the day to Kendrick Bourne for a 13-yard score at the 12:04 mark.
Jared Johnson answered with a 53-yard scoring run on a roll out to the right side for a 21-14 Bearkat lead with 10:53 in the half. The scoring drive went 80 yards in six plays as the offense overcame a personal foul penalty that wiped out a 24-yard kickoff return by Demartie Allen.
The Eagles scored on the ground to tie the contest 21-21 with 6:33 to play before intermission. Jarod Moore broke up the middle then cut to his left or a 34-yard score that capped a seven-play 88-yard drive.
On EWU’s first drive of the second half, the Eagles went 72 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a three-yard pass from Adams to Bomber with 9:28 to play in the third. A 36-yard run by Quincy Forte to the SHSU 13 was the big play in the drive.
An interception at the SHSU 20 set up a one-yard tally from Zach Wimberly to give the Eagles a 35-21 lead ten seconds into the fourth quarter.
Again, the Bearkat bounced back with Johnson putting together an eight-play, 77-yard scoring drive. Johnson hit Derreck Edwards for a 39-yard pass to the EWU 13. Two plays later Johnson found Edwards in the left side of the end zone for a six-yard score to cut the margin to seven with 12:21 to play.
Aided by SHSU penalties, Eastern Washington drove 75 yards in seven plays for a five-yard scoring pass from Jordan West to Cooper Kupp to put the Eagles ahead 42-28 with 8:44 to play.
The Bearkat offense answered once more with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown catch on a pass by Johnson.
Kendrick Bourne caught a 13-yard pass from Adams to complete a 75-yard drive with 3:13 to play. Jalen Moore scored the final EWU points on a one-yard score with 0:31 to play.
Sam Houston State opens its 2014 home schedule at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium Saturday as they host Alabama State at 6:30 p.m.